On Wednesday the Seattle Mariners signed Korean first basemen Dae-Ho Lee to a minor league contract. The contract includes a spring training invite. Jerry DiPoto has tried to add four new first basemen to the roster. The deal with Travis Ishikawa fell through, leaving three players competing for one spot. One of the new players is Adam Lind, who we know will be on the opening day roster. With the acquisition of Lee, the back up role is still a question.
Jesus Montero had fans begging for a call-up in 2015. Montero batted .355 with 18 doubles, six triples and 18 home runs. Jesus Montero’s roller coaster career now has fans cheering for him. Montero started the 2013 season as the Mariners primary catcher, but received a 50 game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. When Montero arrived to spring training in 2014, he was 40 pounds over weight. Montero cut the weight in 2015, and his performance for the Tacoma Rainiers was beyond impressive. Montero seems like the perfect fit to play a platoon role at first base with Adam Lind.
Earlier in the offseason, Jerry DiPoto signed Gabby Sanchez to a minor league deal. In his seven-year career, Sanchez has hit .254 with 126 doubles and 61 home runs. Sanchez played the 2015 season in Japan as a member of the Rakuten Eagles. Sanchez hit .226 with an on base plus slugging of .720. Sanchez hit 12 doubles, seven home runs and drove in 18 runs. By the numbers, Montero has a much better chance of playing in Seattle in 2016 than Sanchez. However another player has been added to the mix.
Dae-Ho Lee was signed to a minor league deal on Feb. 3. Lee turns 34 in June, and provides a right handed power bat to the Mariners organization. Last season for the Fukuoka Softbank, Lee posted a .282 batting average, with 31 home runs, 20 doubles, 98 runs batted in and had an OPS of .892. In four seasons in Japan, Lee hit .293 with 98 home runs, 112 doubles and 348 RBI’s in 570 games. Lee was the league’s most valuable player in 2010, and is a three-time batting champion. Lee is a huge human being, standing at 6 feet 4, and weighing more than 280 pounds. The Korean exchange student who lives with my family described Lee as a Korean Prince Fielder. Like Montero, Lee has struggled with fluctuating weight, but his statistical numbers make up for the numbers that appear on a scale.
What separates the two? Jerry DiPoto and Scott Servais are in love with the walk. Offensively, the club wants to draw as many walks as possible. Defensively, the philosophy is to avoid giving the opponent a free base. Montero has struck out 172 times and drawn 48 walks in 865 plate appearances in five seasons at the MLB level. Lee has been to the plate 7,103 times, striking out 998 times, while drawing 711 walks in 15 seasons in Korea and Japan.
Lee’s ability to draw walks may put him over the top in comparison to Jesus Montero. However Montero is out of minor league options. If Dae-Ho Lee does beat out Jesus Montero for the back-up first basemen job, the club would have to designate Montero for assignment. Montero being out of options makes the job Montero’s to lose. Spring training begins in just two weeks. The acquisition of Dae-Ho Lee has increased the questions surrounded the back-up first basemen role. The only question answered, is who Dae-Ho Lee is.